Phnom Penh, Cambodia
11° 33' N 104° 54' E
May 10, 2008 02:42
Distance 18km

Text written in: English

Poverty

Phnom Penh. Saturday and Sunday, May 10th and 11th.

I especially like one aspect of this trip, and that is the fact that the long distances are by plane, rather than bus or train. We took a 45 minute flight from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. From the plane you could see the large Tonle Sap Lake. This lake increases in size from 2500 square kilometres in the dry season to 15,000 square K during the wet season. We are just at the start of the wet season, so from the plane window you could see or imagine the size of the lake when it is at its largest (see first two photos).

Got to Phnom Penh (population 1.5 million) around noon, and went to our hotel immediately. PP is a truly different city from any other I have visited; it is extremely poor. When a city is this poor, the conventions you expect are not there. People drive on all sides of the road, even going the wrong way between the oncoming traffic and the “side walk”, there is garbage everywhere, hostess bars, begging children, people with missing limbs from land mines and you name it. Add to that, high temperatures and humidity, and you have a unique cocktail to experience and visit.

The visit started with a tour on a bicycle rickshaw (cyclos). Different. We were dropped off at the Royal Palace. Went in to see what there was to see, which was not much. However, while we were there it started to rain, which it seems to do every day in this region, usually sometime between 3 and 4 PM. Finished the day by going to a restaurant run by a children's orphanage, where we watched the children perform a Cambodian or Khmer dance. Great food and a good cause.

Sunday morning, we visited the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. From April 1975 to January 1979, the country was ruled by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. During these 3 ½ years, two million (out of 7 million citizens) were killed or died because of the actions of this regime. An example of how crazy or mad things were is that Pol Pot ordered all Phnom Penh citizens to leave the city on 3 days notice. The city went from a population of 3 million to 30,000 in the course of a few years. The regime killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians for little or no reason. We were shown in too much detail one of the prisons where much of the violence was committed. Child soldiers aged 10 to 15 were given the authority to question and kill people at their whim. After visiting the Genocide Museum, we were taken to one of the Killing Fields. At this site, at least 9,000 people were murdered and buried in mass graves. At the centre of this site is a monument with 8,995 skulls, which were excavated from this cemetery. And it is suggested that there are upwards of another one hundred such Killing Fields elsewhere in the country. A very moving experience to see these displays.

Had the afternoon free so I wandered around and looked at this very poor city, but it does not feel dangerous. Went out for dinner to a fine restaurant. What is worthy of mention is that I ate two tarantulas, much to the horror of my mates. They taste like shrimp with the shell still on, very chewy, as the legs and body shell are hard.

Photos / videos of "Poverty":

Tonle sap Lake as seen from the airplane.  During the wet season, which is starting now until end of June, the lake increases  in size from 2,500 square K to 15,000 square K.  On the lake are floating villages.  The Mekong River near Phnom Penh.  On Sunday, we will take a boat down this river to the Vietnamese border. Our cyclo tour of Phnom Penh.  Everywhere, you see poverty and hardship.  These cyclo pedallers pride themselves that they do not smoke, which is their unique selling proposition. Riding in comfort. The riverside along the Mekong River.  Only small parts of the city are clean and orderly.  This is across from the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace grounds. One of the buildings on the palace grounds. Notice it is dry. Ten minutes later. Flooded streets are part of everyday life here, no one seems to give it any thought. The sign that greets you at the Genocide Museum. The rules of the prison.  The guards doing the questioning were between 10 and 15 years old.  The prisoner was chained to their bed with leg claps.  This was cruel in the extreme. The "classrooms" where the prisoners were kept. The barbed wire is to stop prisoners from attempting to jump and commit suicide. If they were successful, the guard would  be killed. About 10,000 people were murdered in this prison, because it was alleged they were CIA or KJB agents. This is one of over 100 Killing Fields in the country.  This mass grave had at least 9,000 bodies in it.  The hollows are the excavated graves. The Buddhist tower in the background contains the remains of 8,995 people. Sorry if this is a bit graphic, but it does make the point well.  Driving back to town from the Killing Fields.  This is what the streets are like in the rural areas around Phnom Penh.  Officially, they drive on the same side of the road as in North America (right side), but actually they drive wherever they can fit or want to be. Downtown Phnom Penh on a Sunday afternoon. You ought to try crossing the street, you have to look every which way as you are not sure where traffic will come from. Every morning, the streets are cleaned up, but it does not take long to become a smelly mess. Locals resting, as it is Sunday along the Mekong River.  Notice the puddles, and you definitely stay out of the sun. These boys are playing a version of haggy sack, however they only kick the bag from behind their back.  They were very skilful and rarely missed the bag.